Past Promises and Present Challenges: A Conversation about Hype and Reality and What’s to Come in E-Learning

We are looking forward to having a conversation with you about the challenges and benefits of e-learning in higher education and corporate training.

Here are some of the assertions we’ll be discussing:

  1. In higher ed, professors are the front-line soldiers fighting to meet students’ core learning needs – they’re needed and cannot be replaced.
  2. Buying infrastructure before determining requirements is a good way to throw out lots of money.
  3. The technology investment for e – learning is significant and, for the organization to receive the most value from it, e – learning must integrate with the existing enterprise IT to avoid duplicate spending and, at the same time, make content conveniently available to learners on their desktops.
  4. The instructional design process is inadequate because it doesn’t take into account many other tasks that are needed.
  5. It is all about the learner. The learner steers a learning experience while being guided, with the cooperation of the learning technologies and instructor.
  6. Designers and instructors of online learning are using anecdotal information to guide their practice, supported by cottage industry in books, journals, magazines, workshops, conferences, and online support for designing online learning environments as well as teaching and learning online. This inadequate research base provides precious little guidance.

Come talk with us about these (and other) assertions on Thursday at 11:15. And feel free to leave comments here, too.

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  Comments: 4


  1. Hey Patti. I totally agree on your first 5 pts! You need vision before jumping in. You need to consider the learners first in that vision. You must not assume that the ID process will automatically provide success (or ever provide it). Instructors will remain central to the learning process of the human species from birth to death. Technology purchases for IT and e-learning (or learning in general) must be in sync. IT managers cannot exclude learning people from their conferences, discussions, and visioning meetings and vice versa.

    I could go on and on here…but you hit many key points for the attendees of e-learn to listen to. I suspect it will bring people to your session.

    Now, I agree as well as disagree about the last one. Yes, too much is anecdotal. And people grab for any bit of news to tell them what to do since few people were trained to teach in adult learning settings, let alone to teach online. Most are content experts.

    But, recently meta-analyses of the online learning research are starting to appear in Review of Educational Research (a top tier journal) and other places. See work from Robert (Bob) Wisher from the DOD, Bernard and colleagues in Canada, and others. I have also written some of these reviews as a research fellow for Dr. Wisher when he was with the Army Research Institute. More and more are coming out. I used to be a research junkie (I knew many of the citations and page numbers–students hated me on their dissertation committees). Now I have moved into a more practical role in helping people teach online. I try to synthesize the research but that is less important to the people I talk to.

    As a former educational psychologist, let me also note that the research on learning took 150 years to get to where it is. Online learning research has had a much shorter life. People want to know about motivation online, or addressing learning preferences, or about learning outcomes or impact on memory, or how it can foster self-directed learning, or the impact on self-efficacy or learning confidence, or the sense of instructor presence, or relationship to identity. We will not know all this for decades. I get asked these questions all the time. No learning psychologist knows the answer to all these in face-to-face settings. It is unfair to expect e-learning experts to know all of this. Still, we cannot wait for answers. We must march on.

    Not all books, workshops, conferences, etc., are void of theory. And sometimes the authors want to include theory but it does not fit the book publishing industry needs. I know. I just had a book published with 6 chapters (the research and theory ones) deleted and the practice ones remain. Smile.

    Your 6th statement could be interpreted as saying that all books, workshops, conferences, etc., are void of theory and research. We are at a point in time wherein many instructors who are hesitant, resistant, and reluctant do not want to hear about theory or research. They want to hear about practice.

    So, I think that pt #6 in your post needs additional qualifications and clarifications. I also thank you for your posting. Good stuff!!!


  2. Let me try to defend #6 with an example. Most narration in e-learning materials reads the text on the slide. Clearly, designers must think that’s fine because lots of folks are doing it. But multimedia research tells us that this isn’t a good approach at all. People believe that if many others are doing it, it must be a “best practice.” I think we are actually saying the same thing… Some people ARE applying research, but others think that if a conference presenter says X is good, then it must be good. I think that the gist of the last bullet point is that just because people commonly do something or a presenter says something doesn’t make it true. We need to inform design better than we do now. Is there a place where practitioners can go to find out (in practical terms) what research applies and how to apply it? I don’t think we do. I’d like to be part of the solution to this predicament.

    I promise to bring a ton of possibly controversial takeaways from the book that we can discuss.


  3. Ya, I do think our perspectives overlap on pt #6. I will say that there is a leaning toward misunderstanding or ignorance to the research on online learning.

    But there is some good stuff out there now. The Sloan Foundation for one does great work. The Pew Internet and American Life Project does as well. So does the military. And there are some really valuable book. I just worry that people reading pt #6 really quickly will assume that everything out there is not worth much.

    But now I see your pt. Too many people (instructional designers included) tend to build online content based on what they see. If they see shoddy stuff over and over, they may assume that that is simply the way things are done. Best practices may arise from such assumptions and lack of reflection as well as misunderstanding of what the research says. I agree with you then. I guess, I want both ends noted–on the one end, there is some good stuff out there. On the other end, there is a lack of awareness of much of it.

    Again, nicely said Patti. And yes, bring all those controversial topics with you to E-Learn next week. I am looking forward to it.


  4. I am using social network analysis (NetMiner) and content analysis (Leximancer) to study the structure and content of student discourse and to investigate what we advocate (e.g., as found in standards documents)and what we are actually doing (e.g., as found in research and practitioner papers. Interesting stuff. Is anybody else wrestling with these issues? If so, I’d like to hear about your work.

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